A Weird Imagination

Devlog: Anagram Bagels: Part 2

There were two non-trivial aspects of the design of Anagram Bagels: puzzle generation, which I discussed in my last post, and how to handle saving and sharing puzzles, which I will discuss in this post. I wanted an intuitive design that satisfied the following constraints:

  1. It should be possible to easily share a puzzle with another person in the form of a link.

  2. The difference between a link to the game and a link to a specific puzzle should be clear. (So the user doesn't accidentally bookmark a link to a specific puzzle when meaning to bookmark the game.)

  3. The game should gracefully handle the common mobile browser behavior of reloading the page if it hasn't been viewed in a while.

  4. Opening multiple instances of the game in separate tabs shouldn't break anything. (This is the default for web sites, so it's true unless doing something to actively break this assumption.)

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Devlog: Anagram Bagels: Part 1

Introduction

I have a friend who plays a lot of simple puzzle games on their phone. One of them is this word puzzle, which is variant of Bagels (also known as Bulls and Cows or by the trademarked name Mastermind) where the secret is an English word and the guesses must be valid words. Additionally, the alphabet of the guesses is limited to a set selected for the puzzle, and the feedback is given for specific letters as opposed to giving just a count of the correct letters.

While playing the game, my friend would often find that it would be useful to type letters out of order. For example, once determing that the word ends in "ing", it would be easier to simply write that in at the end and then fill out the beginning. As the feedback means the player often knows exactly what they want to write in the middle of the word, typing each word in order from the start to end can be awkward.

As the game seems quite simple, I decided to reimplement it and improve upon the UI. My implementation is in HTML5/JavaScript and should work in any modern browser. Play Anagram Bagels or view the source.

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Some things not allowed are compulsory

Physics

The totalitarian principle is a concept in physics that states

Everything not forbidden is compulsory.

In order words, any observable outcome not forbidden by a physical law will occur. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics suggests an even stronger statement that for every such outcome, there is some alternate world in which it does occur.

Programming language design

While

Everything not forbidden is compulsory.

may sound absurd, its contrapositive

Anything not mandatory is forbidden.

sounds more like a rule you would expect in a computer system, although it may not always be desirable. While it does not fully apply, programming languages and command lines are infamously picky about their inputs:

If you forget a comma in your English essay, your teacher doesn’t hand it back and say, I can’t understand any of this.

In contrast, HTML parsers have historically been quite flexible in what they accept. There's reason to believe this lack of strictness was a strength: less technical users could create their web pages using incorrect HTML that would still work. Somewhat related, browser vendors were also able to add their own extensions and explore what could be added to HTML. On the other hand, the result was large amounts of invalid HTML to the point that HTML5 had to add explicit rules for parsing invalid HTML.

Law and security

Alternatively, the weaker statement,

Everything which is not forbidden is allowed.

enshrines the principle of law that citizens are free to do whatever they will except when explicitly forbidden by a law.

On the other hand, the same principle applied to computer security is called enumerating badness and is widely held to be a bad idea: put simply, while you as the user of your computer want the freedom to do whatever you want on it, you probably don't want arbitrary code which may have been written by malicious actors to have those same freedoms and it's unfeasible to list all the bad programs as much as you may try.

Instead, many modern systems support the reverse,

Everything which is not allowed is forbidden.

or enumerating goodness, in the form of software repositories and app stores. Although some of these implementations unfortunately go against user freedom.

.NET

While it seems like we have exhausted the variants of this phrasing, as the title of this post suggests, some software systems follow yet another one:

Some things not allowed are compulsory.

Yes, you read that right.

Using the Windows Azure .NET SDK v2.3, in a web role, the web.config file contained the following automatically generated XML:

  <system.diagnostics>
    <trace>
      <listeners>
        <add type="Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Diagnostics.DiagnosticMonitorTraceListener, Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Diagnostics, Version=2.3.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35" name="AzureDiagnostics">
          <filter type="" />
        </add>
      </listeners>
    </trace>
  </system.diagnostics>

I was cleaning up warnings in this project hoping narrow down an unrelated issue and saw this warning on the <filter type="" /> tag:

The 'type' attribute is not allowed.

Naturally, I removed the type="" attribute which didn't seem to be doing anything since the warning said it wasn't even allowed. To my surprise, when I ran the code, it failed to run due to the initialization code throwing an exception with the following message:

Required attribute 'type' not found.

Hence, the type attribute is apparently both not allowed and compulsory.

As the message telling me it is not allowed was merely a warning and not an exception, I put it back and decided not to worry too much about it. Removing the <filter /> tag entirely also seemed to work and eliminate the warning as well.